Invitation to Covenant

An Invitation

Identifying that discrimination, duplicity and disagreement about the meaning of clergy covenant have contributed to an adversarial spirit is easy. Knowing how to repair the resulting broken relationships is much more complicated. This document to the Wisconsin Annual Conference cannot adequately set out procedures for the restoration because a broad representation of clergy has not had a part in creating or owning it. Such work must be done collaboratively with clergy who are willing to have a high level of investment both in the process and the outcome.

The Trial Court decision which sentenced me to this work presumed that the church is blinded by current disciplinary language to the extent that it cannot see a way forward. We are in deep need of developing and implementing new ways of living and being together. This, of course, includes the thorny and demanding work of resolving unspoken and deep-seated issues of power, distrust and fear which continue to block our desires to be different than we are.

The Constitution of The United Methodist Church declares that the Annual Conferences “shall have reserved to it the right to vote … on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members” (Section VI, ¶ 33, Article II). To that end, I propose that the clergy of the annual conference enter into deep conversation with one another in order to work toward a clearly articulated clergy covenant. This is not an undertaking that can be accomplished on our behalf, but one which demands the best that the whole body has to bring to it.

It will be crucial to the process to develop relational tools and opportunities among the clergy so that they have a significant base of contact with one another. If there is no personal, relational energy to hold us together, there will be no basis on which to go any further than we have so far come.

The question for the clergy of the Wisconsin Annual Conference becomes: Is deepening our understanding of our covenant worth spending money, time and energy on as a central piece of our common life and the life of United Methodism in Wisconsin?

If the answer is “No,” then the policies and procedures we already have will simply need to be followed to their logical conclusion. The United Methodist Church will continue to tear itself apart and become increasingly irrelevant to its members and society, while destroying the souls of the LGBTQI folks and their allies who remain faithful.

If the answer is “Yes,” if there truly is a yearning for a restored and new relationship among clergy – beyond charging one another and having winners and losers, beyond perceived purity and false unity – then a new and intentional process and supporting structure are needed. To this end, I invite the Clergy Session of the 2012 Annual Conference to consider the following:

    • Authorize funding for and the development of a Conference Clergy Covenant Team.
    • The Conference Clergy Covenant Team will be charged with the task of developing a Clergy Covenant employing the following six itemized points:
        1. Recognize that conflict is not to be avoided, but worked through with grace and honesty.
        2. Create a definition – not for everyone, always – but for us, now. This requires avoiding generalized or coded religious language which reinforces an individualized interpretation of what covenant means.
        3. Establish a Professional Code of Ethics which includes intentional relationship building and modes of accountability.
        4. Confront imbalances of power and avoid the perils of majority rule (i.e., the tyranny of the majority).
        5. Seek protection of and equality for the vulnerable/minority by ending participation in discrimination (specifically against GLBTQI people).
        6. Engage external assistance for an internal work of covenant-defining. Just as John Wesley had a variety of mentors from throughout the Christian community (his own Church of England, Roman Catholic, Moravian, etc.), it may be necessary for us to look beyond our own tradition for guidance (including members of the GLBTQI community and possibly the larger inter-faith community).
    • The Conference Clergy Covenant Team will be comprised of 12 members and a convener. District Superintendents will discern 2 clergy from each District who have the gifts to aid in the development of a Clergy Covenant for the benefit of clergy solidarity and congregational leadership. One retired clergy will be selected by the Retired Clergy Association. Additional members of the Team will be Rev. Amy DeLong, Rev. Jim Cotter (or another member of the Trial Court), and Rev. Wesley White (from The Collaboration Team).
    • The Conference Clergy Covenant Team will work together at least monthly. Participation in the Team will involve a substantial commitment of time and creative energy and must be regarded as a first priority.
    • Conference-wide communications and regular progress reports will be an essential ingredient in this process as we seek transparency and create feedback loops which elicit participation from the broader clergy community.
    • The Conference Clergy Covenant Team will return to the 2013 Clergy Session for approval of its proposed Clergy Covenant.
    • We request a starting fund of $5,000 ($2,500 in 2012 and $2,500 in 2013) to cover travel, meeting costs, and communication expenses. Should more monies be needed, additional funding will be sought from the clergy on whose behalf work is being done, congregations that recognize the benefit a Clergy Covenant would have for them, the Board of Ordained Ministry, and the United Methodist Foundation. An accounting of this money will be made as part of a report to the Clergy Session.
    • There will be accountability regarding the Clergy Covenant that is approved by the 2013 Clergy Session. The Conference Clergy Covenant Team will oversee an evaluation of its implementation and report back to the 2014 Clergy Session regarding any needed changes as a result of lived experience with a Clergy Covenant.
    • A similar evaluation will be made to the 2015 Clergy Session and the 2016 Clergy Session will evaluate whether or not additional Clergy Covenant work is in order.

[The original document presented by Rev. DeLong, of which this is the modified action item as passed by the Clergy Session, may be found at]

Questions of Law for the Wisconsin Annual Conference
were submitted by Rev. Tom Lambrecht

In light of the action taken by the clergy session on May 31, 2012, to adopt the “Action Item: An Invitation” presented in response to the trial and sentencing of Rev. Amy DeLong:

  1. Does the requirement that a “Clergy Covenant” be developed based on the principle of “ending participation in discrimination (specifically against GLBTQI people)” constitute a violation of provisions of the Book of Discipline which prohibit the candidacy, ordination, or appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals (¶304.3, 311.2d) and the performing of same-gender unions (¶341.6, 2702.1b), and does it constitute a violation of ¶16 of the Constitution, which reserves to the General Conference “full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional,” including “to define and fix the powers and duties of elders, deacons, supply preachers, local preachers,” and “to define and fix the powers and duties of annual conferences,” and does it constitute a violation of Judicial Council decision 1111 and others, which state, “An annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions?”
  2.  Does the request for an appropriation of $5,000 from the annual conference budget for the work of the “Conference Clergy Covenant Team” constitute a violation of ¶613.20, which states that “no annual conference board, agency, committee, commission or council shall … otherwise use [United Methodist] funds … to promote the acceptance of homosexuality?”

Next Steps

Bishop Linda Lee has forwarded these questions to the Judicial Council along with her ruling that they are hypothetical and the work of the Clergy Covenant Team is to proceed.

The Judicial Council will rule in late October, 2012.

Depending on the Judicial Council decision we will respond to the Annual Conference. In the meantime we work.



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